Let us negotiate a revolution by design

We need a new institutional design compatible with the 21st century which will help change politics, economy, governance and society

Let us negotiate a revolution by design

 Azadi Notes – 5

The four preceding pieces of the Azadi Notes covered evasive independence which is still awaited for 70 per cent of the population after seven decades: the evident rot in key institutions’ ability to dispense justice, security and prosperity; sustained absence of political imagination in resolving our big challenges; and the lament about the missing sense of course, direction and destination.

Today’s note reflects over what needs to be done, what can ‘we’ do, and what will it take to transition from the prevailing ‘dystopia’ to a proposed ‘utopia’?

We have randomly experimented for almost 70 years. But if we act imaginatively, earnestly, wisely, with due determination and in the interest of the dispossessed people, not just the elites of Pakistan, our next 30 years can bring a sea change. We can also undo the damage of our last 70 years’ follies and make Pakistan a heaven before death for our own people and a rose for, not a thorn in the side of, our immediate neighbours -- Afghanistan, China, India, Iran and Russia.

A country is because of its people, and not the land mass. If land mass made a country, Gobi desert would be a glorious one. And if a country is not good and safe for its own people and its laws are inimical to its citizens, it does not qualify as a homeland. For 70 per cent of us who live below or at the poverty line, Pakistan is like a large jail with majority of ‘us’ being treated as inmates.

If the informed and powerful citizens who are part of the other 30 per cent persuade the few thousands who call the shots, we can get out of the prevailing dystopia. The best way to move forward is through sustained, soft and affable conversations about a new institutional design. Overt anger with no political action, street protests that damage public property and routine and pessimistic assertions won’t help.

First, who rules Pakistan? Theoretically, the constitution of Pakistan does. Actually, a few institutions and interests that are unreasonably protected by the Constitution do. Our inter-elite mutual support club of justice, security, legislation and public policy complexes work to benefit and protect each other, not the citizens. Majority of ‘us’ are elite’s willing but sulking proxy. Media used to act as a watchdog in its print age, but now it is a circus dog vehemently entertaining viewers by breaking news race.

In modern states, an office holds power, and the person holding that office makes a little difference. In Pakistan, only one or two offices hold power regardless of the person (the COAS, and interior minister); for others, persons holding the office make a huge difference. Consider President Zardari vs. Mamnoon or consider Nawaz Sharif vs. Shaukat Aziz. Or recall the generals who became presidents. The difference here is when a person is holding two offices, s/he becomes more powerful. We must reduce reliance on a person’s benevolence and increase the predictable efficacy of our key institutions.

Pakistan’s ruling elite and the custodians of the continuity of exclusive status quo that benefits a few at the cost of 200 million, comprise about 2000 persons: generals, judges, bureaucrats, heads of political parties, some Senators and MPs, CEOs of public entities, businesses heads and families who became big due to historical rent-seeking, and a couple of dozens of the khaki proxies. As we persuade script writers, there is no need to waste time on actors. And only 30,000 of ‘us’ can do the persuasive negotiations.

Now, who are ‘we’? We are the people who can think freely, analyse dispassionately, speak with a passion for the excluded, and talk with confidence to the elites who are impeding the larger and inclusive public good of prosperity, peace and pluralism. We are writers, poets, popular opinion makers, lawyers, political and social activists, media persons, retired civil, military and judicial officials, academics, subscribers, supporters and promoters of those politicians, judges and generals who befool millions.

Two pertinent points: ‘We’ do not necessarily need to be in one organised group or a political party; we only need to subscribe to some basic humane values and political principles. Two, we are though highly politicised but not adequately political. We are lifestyle liberals and outlook fundamentalists. In personal spaces, we are all equally wicked and full of vices.

We can persuade those 2,000 or 20,000 who are encircling the 2,000 from our respective positions. Let’s call the 2,000 the malleable captives, and the 20,000 the uninformed guards of the captives.

Pakistan’s four hurdles to a ‘utopia’ of progress, peace and pluralism are religious extremism, poverty, continuity of the colonial institutions and massively ossified ignorance. None of these can be fought, killed and won over. All these must be understood, engaged with and tackled wisely. For that we need a new institutional design compatible with the 21st century. It will help change politics, economy, governance and society.

Army top brass is the most critical enabler if we convince them, but a huge obstacle if we alienate them. The other malleable are also very important. One favour we can ask from Army is a friendly audience where they are not in pressure to defend past policies. If we win Army’s belief, we don’t need to worry about religious managers. Two favours Army can do to itself are to decolonise itself in look and outlook; and include its own officers and judges in the drive of accountability, which mostly hits politicians only.

A new post-colonial constitution is at the heart of this new design, which must come from ‘us’, citizens. This won’t be built upon the colonial constructs of ‘legal framework’; it will premise on the social values we decide. It is so amusing that the Britishers who gave the illiterate natives a ‘codified text’ do not have a written constitution for their own benefit and guidance.

Wide and deep poverty is related to historical powerlessness and sustained exclusion. Innovative steps and measures aiming at new resource generation and use of politics for equitable distribution will help. Ignorance has only one cure: knowledge, attained through education, interaction, exposure and deeper thinking. In Pakistan, we have always tried to end old ignorance by replacing it with new ignorance.

In November, a piece Roadmap to Naya Pakistan shared some ideas for big transformation. To move into the future and address the present challenges, we must get out of fabricated past which is determining our perceptions and crippling our ability to be in, and see, the present.

The ‘utopia’ is Pakistan where all citizens enjoy equal dignity and the state is equally enabling all to be, become, choose, have, assert, prosper, believe, defy and laugh. It can be done in a decade at no extra cost.

To end, I say: The age of revolutions is over. The time of negotiation is here. Let us negotiate a revolutionary change. It will be the first revolution by design! Azadi Mubarak

Let us negotiate a revolution by design